Yesterday, Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt announced he will move to repeal the Clean Power Plan, the signature Obama-era climate strategy to cut carbon-dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants.
“Tomorrow, in Washington, D.C., I’ll be signing a proposed rule to withdraw the so-called Clean Power Plan of the past administration, and thus begin the effort to withdraw that rule,” Pruitt told a crowd. In keeping with President Trump's campaign rhetoric that promised a revival of the fossil-fuel industry, Pruitt vowed: “The war against coal is over.”
Pruitt's proposal, obtained by The Washington Post last week, is expected to declare that the Obama administration acted outside its legal authority by attempting to regulate greenhouse emissions from power plants. It doesn't seek to replace the plan yet, instead aiming to first get public input.
But let's put aside for second what just happened, or is about to.
Let's focus for a minute on the where and with whom.
Pruitt went to Hazard, Ky., to make his announcement in front of coal miners. He stood on stage with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R), the state's senior senator.
McConnell's appearance with Pruitt came at the same time that the majority leader was fending off questions about the feud between President Trump and McConnell's colleague, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.). Trump has also targeted McConnell on Twitter. But the savvy Kentucky Republican had no qualms about appearing with one of the president's key Cabinet-level officials in his home state for the landmark announcement.
Behind only Wyoming and West Virginia, Kentucky, where Pruitt was born, is the third top coal-producing state in the nation and McConnell has long been a champion of the indsutry.
“As EPA administrator, Scott is working to strike an appropriate balance between protecting water and air, and preventing the kind of job-killing overregulation,” McConnell said, according to CBS News, adding that Pruitt has been working to “stop the war on coal in its tracks.”
What's going on: Although only 32 percent of U.S. adults approve of the Trump administration's handling of environmental issues, according to a Gallup poll conducted in June, a large majority — 69 percent — of Republicans favor it.
The overall numbers, however, belie the degree to which promoting fossil fuels is a winning issue with the GOP base. Just as Trump is playing to his base in tweets and speeches, so are lieutenants such as Pruitt in their actions.
For Republicans like McConnell, Pruitt is not only the enforcer of Trump's deregulatory environmental agenda. He is also the avatar, the public face of it, for the GOP base.
From Niels Lesniewski, reporter at Roll Call, and Robert Steurer, communications director for McConnell, showed how the two were mutually reinforcing yesterday:
Why are Republicans so eager to embrace Pruitt? A big part of their motive is economic. A few swing states crucial to Trump's margin of victory in the electoral college — Pennsylvania and Ohio — have a disproportionate number of voters working in fossil-fuel industries, while a few others — Iowa and Indiana — are full of farmers. Many of them were worried about how the Obama administration's water pollution regulation, called the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule, would hamstring the agriculture business.
When discussing recent reports that he meets far more frequently with industry groups than he does with environmental organizations, Pruitt said, “What about those farmers and ranchers in Iowa? What about those farmers and ranchers in North Dakota or Kentucky?”
Addressing his audience at the Kentucky Farm Bureau on Monday, Pruitt answered his own question: “And the answer is, you count more.”
From a reporter for The Hill:
Pruitt on his infrequent meetings with enviro groups pic.twitter.com/X59uCciQg2— Timothy Cama (@Timothy_Cama) October 9, 2017
EPA spokeswoman Liz Bowman told The Washington Post's Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis in an interview Monday that Pruitt chose to speak about his plans in Kentucky because coal workers had a direct economic stake in policies aimed at curbing emissions from coal burning.
“He’s speaking directly to people in coal county about how the rule negatively affected the whole industry,” Bowman said.
Similarly, when Pruitt visited Grand Forks, N.D. for a roundtable discussion about agriculture, GOP lawmakers there were eager to be seen praising Pruitt as a boon to the state's economy:
- “I applaud Administrator Pruitt’s concern for our farmers and support his stance that getting a permanent fix in Congress is the best way to ensure farmers don’t have to worry about this anymore,” Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) said.
- “Family farms cannot bear the cost of federal overreach,” Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) said. “We’ve advanced efforts in the current Congress to provide regulatory relief for our ag producers, and I appreciate Administrator Pruitt’s commitment to working with us on that front.” (Hoeven later criticized Pruitt for not opening that meeting to the public.)
Part of the warm GOP embrace is also cultural. Even Republicans who don't live in coal country want to signal they will stand up against policies unfavorable to the industry — including those meant to curb global warming.
“Even for those who don’t live in areas that are dependent upon energy-industry jobs,” said Scott Jennings, a Kentucky-based GOP consultant who helped reelect McConnell, “the energy issues became a line in the sand: If you can’t stand with us on energy, you can’t stand with us, period.”
Indeed, coal jobs have been declining for a long time. Three decades ago, there were three times as many miners in the United States as there are now. That means coal miners should be a less powerful voting bloc than they were in the 1980's.
But Trump's success suggests that may not be the case. Even if there are fewer coal miners overall, there appear to be more GOP voters who take coal miners' priorities to heart. Instead, opposition to environmental priorities of Democrats has been on the rise among Republicans.
Take, for example, the big gap in concern about climate change between Democrats and Republicans that widened further over the course of Obama's presidency.
In 2007, 55 percent of Democrats said they worried “a great deal” about global warming, again according to a Gallup survey, versus 24 percent of Republicans who were worried, too. In 2017, that gap grew to a 66-to-18-percent split between Democrats and Republicans.
Trump exploited that chasm during the 2016 campaign by repeatedly hammering Hillary Clinton for her gaffe that “we're going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business.”
All of which means that Appalachian communities like those in Kentucky "perceive a real disdain for their cultural and their lifestyle,” Jennings said.
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-- One other notable quote from Pruitt: "I would do away with these incentives that we give to wind and solar," the EPA head said yesterday, adding that doing so would be a choice by Congress and the states and “not an EPA decision."
"I’d let them stand on their own and compete against coal and natural gas and other sources," Pruitt said.
Set aside for a moment that fossil fuels have their own set of federal subsidies that help them compete in the market. Pruitt's shot at renewables seems unnecessary given that the federal tax credits for wind and solar projects will phase out completely over the next five years. With or without Pruitt's prodding, Congress is unlikely to extend them further as long as it is controlled by the GOP.
Watch Pruitt's entire speech here:
-- Another charge in the Flint probe: A sixth Michigan official will face manslaughter charges in the criminal investigationintof tainted water in Flint. A special prosecutor announced charges of involuntary manslaughter and misconduct against Eden Wells, Michigan’s chief medical executive, on Monday. Wells’s attorneys said they learned only Monday of the new charges, according to the Detroit News.
-- Out with the old: To many congressional Republicans, the 1906 Antiquities Act is very antiquated. It gives too much power to the president to make large national monuments out of federal lands. In their view, the Obama administration, which designated more national monuments than any other, was particularly egregious.
So House Natural Resources Chairman Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) had put forward a bill that snips away some of that executive power. It requires environmental reviews of any monument designation greater than 640 acres and local-government approval for monuments over 10,000 acres.
“If my colleagues are serious about their calls for accountability under this Act – no matter which party controls the White House – they will support this bill," Bishop said in a statement.
Recovery is in for long haul in Puerto Rico:
--The Trump administration may have "filtered out" the mayor of San Juan, but it will be hard to ignore this: Gov. Ricardo Rosselló has asked congressional leaders for more than $4 billion in emergency funding to meet recovery needs for Puerto Rico as it faces an “unprecedented catastrophe.” In a three-page letter to lawmakers, Rosselló insisted that “absent extraordinary measures to address the halt in economic activity in Puerto Rico, the humanitarian crisis will deepen, and the unmet basic needs of the American citizens of Puerto Rico will become even greater.”
Read Rosselló's letter:
Letter sent to Majority and Minority leaders asking for more access to federal funding and programs for Puerto Rico's recovery efforts. pic.twitter.com/qI32eR6Bym— Ricardo Rossello (@ricardorossello) October 9, 2017
A few other updates:
Just 16 percent of the island has power, 53 percent has wired or wireless Internet, and 32 percent of cell towers are operational, according to the local government.
Nearly 64 percent of customers have regained water service.
The storm disrupted production of various widely used intravenous solutions, such as sodium chloride, or saline, and dextrose, used to rehydrate patients and dilute medications, The Post’s Laurie McGinley reports. And hospitals across the U.S. mainland are scrambling to avoid problems associated with the limited production.
You can follow updates on the progress in Puerto Rico via The Post's Philip Bump’s tool here.
-- Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Brock Long on Monday laid partial blame for slow progress on the politics on the island. In the continental United States, “politics between Republicans and Democrats is bad enough, but in Puerto Rico, politics is even worse in many cases,” Long said, The Post's Joel Achenbach and Arelis R. Hernández report.
Former senior Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett responded to Long’s remark in a Sunday interview that he had “filtered out” San Juan’s mayor, Carmen Yulín Cruz (with whom Trump got into a Twitter-spat):
I worked 8 yrs w/ mayors from both parties. You can’t afford to “filter out” what your hear from duly elected representatives of Americans. https://t.co/GpwZndiHAs— Valerie Jarrett (@ValerieJarrett) October 9, 2017
-- The Jones Act waiver times out: The temporary Jones Act waiver that was issued by the Department of Homeland Security expired on Sunday night and is “not being extended at this time,” a department spokesman told HuffPost. The law, which requires goods that are transported between U.S. coasts to be transported by U.S.-owned ships, is often waived in a disaster, but the Trump administration is insisting that an extension of the waiver is unnecessary for the Puerto Rico relief effort. “There is an ample supply of Jones Act-qualified vessels to ensure that cargo is able,” to reach the territory, Homeland Security spokesman David Lapan told HuffPost.
There's an effort in Congress, led by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), to permanently exempt the island from the Jones Act. “Now that the temporary Jones Act waiver for Puerto Rico has expired, it is more important than ever for Congress to pass my bill to permanently exempt Puerto Rico from this archaic and burdensome law,” McCain said in a statement to HuffPost.
Rosselló, speaking to CBS News' David Begnaud, says he wants an extension of the exemption: "I think we should have all the tools that we have at hand."
-- Wind winner: There’s so much wind energy potential over oceans that it could power human civilization, newly published research has found. The Post’s Chris Mooney points out there are a number of reasons it’s unlikely that wind turbines would ever be built to cover large stretches of open ocean. But the study could encourage increased floating wind farms over deep waters.
Here’s one upshot of ocean-based turbines over those on land: Prior research has noted that there is a limit to how much energy land-based wind farms can generate. This is because as a wind turbine extracts energy from the moving air, it leaves less for nearby turbines in the same wind farm. But out in the ocean, wind speeds are 70 percent higher, meaning that that upper limit for how much energy you can capture with turbines is considerably higher.
-- California is on fire: Massive fires burned through several counties in Northern California on Monday and overnight, with winds that exceeded 50 miles per hour at times. At least 10 people were killed and many others injured. And in Sonoma County, more than 100 people were reported missing late Monday, report Cara Strickland, Scott Wilson, Breena Kerr and Herman Wong.
More than 2,000 homes and commercial buildings have been destroyed and 20,000 people were evacuated in areas affected by 15 separate fires across the northern part of the state. California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) declared a state of emergency in Napa, Sonoma and Yuba counties and later in Butte, Lake, Mendocino, Nevada and Orange Counties. The wildfires were so large that residents in San Francisco were able to smell them.
In a five-page letter on Monday, Brown called on Trump for federal assistance.
The city of Santa Rosa imposed a curfew on Monday evening to prevent looting, the Los Angeles Times reported:
City has imposed curfew in Mandatory Evacuation Areas between 6:45pm & 7:15am. Violation punishable as misdemeanor. https://t.co/foWpVBIsUJ.— SantaRosaFire (@SantaRosaFire) October 10, 2017
Another wildfire also broke out in Southern California on Monday in Orange County, per the Associated Press, which noted that “much of Southern California is under red flag warnings for fire danger due to the fall’s first significant Santa Ana winds.” As of Monday night, 5,000 homes had been evacuated and firefighters were struggling to contain the growing brush fire that had already destroyed 6,000 acres.
Here's a roundup of images from The Post's Mary Hui. And some more from social media:
From CBS News:
Videographer Jack Preston Hebb:
Photos shared from BuzzFeed’s Jon Passantino:
From the San Francisco Chronicle’s Evan Sernoffsky:
Chronicle reporter Kurtis Alexander:
An aerial view, from a NOAA satellite:
The Suomi NPP satellite on 10/9/17, captured killer wildfires that have torched tens of thousands of acres, and destroyed homes in Calif. pic.twitter.com/1w5T2c7rIp— NOAA Satellites PA (@NOAASatellitePA) October 10, 2017
Another from NOAA:
-- The question on everyone's mind: Is all of this normal? The New York Times's Henry Fountain explores that question in a good video explainer following the recent spate of hurricanes, earthquakes and wildfires.
-- A study for the birds: The Post’s Ben Guarino writes of a study by two University of Chicago graduate students that examined the soot on the bellies of birds kept in Rust Belt museum collections. The analysis revealed that museum curators had observed that some birds “were dirtier than others,” although they had never looked into why. Here are some takeaways from the study, per Guarino:
The birds were dirtiest from 1880 until 1929, when the Great Depression hit. Coal consumption plummeted, only to rise again during World War II. The mid-1940s birds darkened in response. As power plants became more efficient and natural gas supplanted coal in homes, the birds lightened. A period of legislation — 1955s Air Pollution Control Act, 1963s Clean Air Act and 1970s Clean Air Act extension — held the birds to their cleanest levels. The birds from the 1980s onward are the least sooty in recent decades.
The takeaway seems to be that clean air laws were effective, as you can see from the outcome of the 1955, 1963 and 1970 regulations in the bird’s feathers. The authors of the study “emphasized that the birds revealed only relative trends in atmospheric soot, not direct concentrations of black carbon emissions.”
- The Atlantic Council holds an event on trade dialogue and the role of energy for the United States and China.
- The World Resources Institute holds an event on “Open Government for Climate Action.”
- The Heritage Foundation and Pacific Legal Foundation hold an event on the WOTUS debate.
- The Fissile Materials Working Group and International Panel on Fissile Materials hold an event to launch a research report on the use of highly enriched uranium in Russia on Wednesday.
- The House Agriculture Committee holds a public hearing on the agenda for the Commodity Futures Trading Commission on Wednesday.
- The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Federal Lands holds a legislative hearing on various bills on Wednesday.
- The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources holds a legislative hearing on the outer continental shelf bill on Wednesday.
- Energy Secretary Rick Perry will testify before the The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy during a hearing on the Energy Department’s missions and management priorities on Thursday.
- The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Power and Oceans holds a legislative hearing on Thursday.
- The Center for Strategic and International Studies holds an event on the International Energy Agency’s Renewable Energy Market Report for 2017 on Thursday.
- Bloomberg hosts its third annual Sustainable Business Summit starting on Thursday.
- The Bipartisan Policy Center holds an event with former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz on October 18.
Deadly wildfires sweep through California's wine country:
The fires burned through homes near Napa Valley, Calif.:
Mississippi residents in cleanup mode after Hurricane Nate:
A list of senators who have questioned Trump’s temperament:
30,000 bees were found in a New Jersey home:
Before stardom on Fox News, host Sean Hannity found controversy on college radio:
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